The Naples Film Festival, as told by the Director

Friday, November 13, 2009

Back in January at Sundance, Robert Redford told a group of directors assembled at his lodge for the film festival that the first year of Sundance he was out on the streets personally trying to get people to come in and see the movies. What a difference 25 years makes. Even though this past year's attendance was down there were more theater tickets sold than the previous year - more people are actually going to Sundance to see movies, rather than the stars. Now it seems every town has a film festival judging by what comes through our email. Even in a down market, the first annual Naples International Film Festival in Florida was a testament to how hungry the average theater going public is for non-Hollywood films.

The Cove was the gala event for the first day of the festival, a black tie affair and in Naples you can be assured all those rocks adorning the beautiful ladies were indeed real. It looked like Cannes or what you see on television at the Academy Awards. I didn't bring a black tie, it being the first day of the snowbird's return I was advised that nobody would be in black tie. Boy was I wrong. Nearly every gent there was in a black tuxedo. And there were the “papillon noir” or black butterflies at their throats. I was wearing an all-white linen suit that my buddy Jim Clark had given to the groomsmen at his wedding party a few months ago. I was the only white albino at a penguin colony.

The venue was huge, scary huge, more than a 1000 seats in an auditorium that I knew would feel empty even if it was half full. The ticket price was $29 for the cheapest tickets, and those near the front we're paying rock concert prices. I thought of Redford trying to get people in the seats and my mouth went dry. I had a case of the jitters to say the least. Needlessly so. The theater ended up being packed front to back.

It was as receptive of a crowd and as big and response as any filmmaker allows themselves to dream. Joe Chisholm and I received two standing ovations at the end of the film but the real kudos goes to the three creators of the Naples Film Festival: Rowan Samuel, Dan Lineman and Eric Raddatz. They managed to pull off a major coup in a down market.

Who would have thought? All the films were well attended and most of the other 40 films show screening there were sold out. My friend from Boulder, Jill Wheeler, now living in Naples also worked on community outreach for the festival and did a stellar job promoting the event and making it a success for the community and the filmmakers. In fact it took a whole community of like minded people to pull off the event. But I am reminded again of Margaret Mead's quote, "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." That simple but elegantly beautiful maxim was in evidence all over Naples this past weekend. And it's important to remember the lineage of how radical notions gain mainstream acceptance. It starts with one person or a small group of people daring to take the steps to achieve what once only resided in a dream.

Redford said he felt like a lunatic trying to get people to see movies in the middle of the winter in Utah but now there are small town film festivals of independent films all over the world modeled on his dream. He set off a chain reaction of small town festivals around the world and in the process, created legions of filmmakers working outside the Hollywood mainstream that now have a voice. It's a beautiful thing to see humanity achieving the best of what we're all capable of when we share a dream of a better world.

For the Wild,


The Cove is nominated for seven Cinema Eye Honors

Thursday, November 05, 2009

We're honored to announce that The Cove has been nominated for a record-tying seven awards from the Cinema Eye Honors!

Here is the full list of nominations:

Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking
  Louie Psihoyos, Paula DuPre Pesman and Fisher Stevens
Production  Paula DuPre Pesman and Fisher Stevens
Cinematography  Brook Aitken
Editing  Geoff Richman
Original Music Score  Joshua Ralph
Debut Feature Film  Louie Psihoyos, Director
Audience Choice Prize  Louie Psihoyos, Director

The Cinema Eye Honors Ceremony will be held January 15th 2010, at The Times Center in New York City.



South Park parodies dolphin issues

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tonight's episode of South Park includes parodies of dolphin hunting and captivity.

Read the episode description and watch a preview clip from the show on their website:

We're curious to see what South Park has to say about these issues. We'll be watching-- join us at 10pm tonight on Comedy Central.


The Cove Wins an "Emma"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Louie was in Hollywood last night. The Cove was up for an award in the documentary film category of the Environmental Media Awards.
And it won.

The "Emmas" have been recognizing the brave, bold and brilliant in the world of entertainment for twenty years now.

 Last night's ceremony, held under the stars and towering "buildings" on a Paramount "street", recognized many notables. Sir Richard Branson graciously accepted the Corporate Responsibility Award for his many innovative moves. In 2007, he offered $25 million to whoever comes up with the best plan to remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.
For instance.

TV, drama, comedy, kids shows, animated, live action, the glittery-green event honored those that recognized the earth, the air, the water, the food, and the need to protect them.

Needless to say, we were thrilled to sit with high profile pioneers of smart living like Daryl Hannah, Ed Begley, Jr., Lyn Lear and share hope.

And Jason Mraz rocked us all!

Viki Psihoyos

Against All Odds Redux: The Cove in Japan

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The following post is a recount of the events surrounding the screening of The Cove at the Tokyo International Film Festival, as told by David Kubiak of David was instrumental, along with many others, in making the screening and press events happen in Japan.


With an arrest warrant looming and word on the street that city officials from Taiji would be in attendance, The Cove and director Louie Psihoyos made their debuts at the Tokyo International Film Festival yesterday and largely stole the show.

TIFF initially refused to include The Cove in its green "Action for the Earth!" themed 2009 festival because of its "sensitive" (i.e., blood-drenched, Japan-critical) nature, but persistent interventions by Cove supporter Ben Stiller, TIFF jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu, and other free speech advocates pressured organizers to relent and include it the line-up.

Acceptance did not mean endorsement, however, and TIFF continued to undercut the screening, especially after the town of Taiji threatened to sue the festival for showing the film and right wingers vowed to protest with their deafening PA trucks. The film was first assigned an inconspicuous 10:30 AM slot in a 165-seat venue on Wednesday, 10/21, which almost instantly sold out online, and when pressed to assign an additional venue, TIFF officials scheduled a 9:00 PM "press only" showing on Sunday 10/18 but forgot to notify the press corps that the showing had been arranged.

When Louie arrived at festival the morning of the 21st, he and CNN and everyone else discovered that TIFF had also suddenly changed the photo rules and now, citing the "privacy rights" of the building owner, no one was allowed to shoot Louie on the "green carpet" entryway (where the glitzy star walk pics are always shot) or under the huge TIFF entry sign. Louie and party where then hustled to a sealed off upstairs lounge until the post-showing Q&A for their protection and privacy.

So it wasn't the warmest reception, but on the other hand, the early threats regarding Louie's airport arrest, rightist disruptions, and last minute TIFF cancelations proved hollow bravado, so everyone was just relieved the event was going through at all.

Inside the "sold out" theater TIFF had miraculously discovered a row of empty seats that was now filled with Taiji officials, including Mayor Sangen, "Private Space" and several Fishery Agency suits. When the film ended and audience broke into applause, Mayor Sangen and his entourage trooped out scowling before Louie appeared and the Q&A began.

Louie spoke for a few minutes explaining his motivations and hopes for the film, and admitting to nervousness at standing for the first time before a quintessentially "non-chorus" crowd. He handled the expected "traditional food culture" questions deftly by noting his mother was older than this particular dolphin-killing "tradition" and also responded thoughtfully to queries over why the film seemed to veer from an animal rights appeal to a mercury focused public health alarm.

Louie recounted the internal evolution of a classic documentary that follows a developing story rather than imposing predetermined script lines of its own. He recalled his own wake up call at a sushi dinner with some Minamata doctors who refused to eat any of the larger, more expensive fish. When asked why, they said they had tried a piscine Supersize Me experiment on themselves to test mercury accumulation and found that eating 200 grams of small fish per day doubled their mercury levels in a month, but the same amount of larger fish increased their own mercury blood toxicity by eight times in the same span of time. This led Louie to test his own levels as well as those of his fisherman son, both of which were through the roof, awakening him quite personally to the mercury menace in our seas and widening his appreciation of the risks of our fossil-fueled (and mercury intensive) energy economy.

The entire session was quite gratifying with complimentary comments far out-numbering the softball critiques and ended with another round of appreciative applause, primarily for Louie but also for Ms. Tamako Takamatsu, the incredibly talented translator the Earth Island Institute advance team had hired (since TIFF refused to offer a customary Q&A interpreter of its own).

Louie and crew then trucked down to a press conference organized by the advance team in a trendy nearby club. The briefing was attended by about 45 Japanese and foreign media reps as well as 40 people from local activist groups and moderated by the London Time's distinguished Asian editor, Richard Lloyd Parry (who actually appears briefly in The Cove getting hit over the head with a sign by an irate Taiji fisherman).

The questioning was more intensive but followed a similar course as the movie Q&A, except for the great interest in Louie's surprising offer to show the film for free in Taiji and to donate all OPS Japanese profits from the film to Taiji fishermen if and when they renounce the drive kills and turn to other catch.

Though some of the Japanese press comments were fairly critical of the movie's alleged cultural chauvinism (e.g., condemning dolphin fishing but not wholesale factory farmed cow and pig slaughter), Louie said he did not condone such practices either, but they were outside the purview of his film; and he made an impassioned defense of his Ocean Preservation Society's focus on the critical state of the seas. Citing the catastrophic decline of ocean  life and health globally and need for activism on every front, he pointed to the dolphin tragedy as a symbolic and motivating issue rather than the be all end all of the film. Properly understood, he said, The Cove is actually "a love letter to the Japanese people" -- a sincere effort to seduce them into a greater planetary love affair that would radically improve our world and protect their children, too.

The 90-minute briefing ended convivially with appreciative statements from most participants, except perhaps from Mr. Masayuki Komatsu, the notorious Fishing Agency spokesman who monitored the meeting (and had once famously declared that minke whales were "the cockroaches of the sea"). He simply stared at the floor, rubbed his temples and frowned a lot, and left without comment at the end.

Louie followed this run with several more exhausting hours of one-on-one interviews with major domestic and international media outlets, but the long effort paid off rather handsomely with hundreds of stories running on Google News the following day, not to mention the scores of stories and TV clips running in the Japanese media that completely overshadowed all other TIFF news for the week.

Indeed from the Associated Press's first story on the 2009 TIFF opening that was half about The Cove to the torrent of Cove coverage that continued through the week, it is obvious the TIFF executives knew exactly what they were doing when they tried to preemptively ban the film. They understand color and know a bloody rain of dolphin tears can always grey out and overshadow a faux green parade.

Louie flew out the next morn for the German and UK openings, and another few weeks of dawn to dusk PR. But before leaving he expressed his deepest gratitude (with fine scotch and feasting) to the EII advance team, which had organized all his events and leveraged The Cove's 9/25 Tokyo Foreign Correspondents Club showing into a potent media network that made TIFF's attempted news blackout a bit of a farce.

International Sales Agent Carl Clifton of the Works Media Group stayed behind in Tokyo to try and leverage the sudden notoriety into theater distribution on the ground. Those talks are still in progress. Will report how they turn ou

Blog slogging from Nihon,

David Kubiak,, Tokyo, Japan

The Cove at TIFF, as told by the Director - Continued

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Japanese press conference went well. There were lots of interesting questions, which I welcomed, but my jet-lagged brain started to fog a bit after the one-on-one interviews later on. David Kubiak, an expat who speaks fluent Japanese, was a star translator and hopefully put my thoughts into the mother tongue with a bit more polish. He saved the toughest journalists for last. He smiled through a fixed grin as he sat them down, "They're not the friendlies."

"What scientific proof do you have that dolphins are intelligent?"

I answered: “By whose standards? Yours? A butterfly's? Dolphins have a bigger brain than yours, and you can't do anything well that they can do. I'm sure they must feel pity for us in when we're in their environment. They've managed to live on the earth for 50 million more years than us with bigger brains and without jeopardizing the whole planet like we have in just a few decades. I'm glad they don't have the power to ask, “what good are humans?” because it's scientific proof that we're destroying the planet. Dolphins are the only wild animal to save the life of humans, and the only way we can save them now is to prove we've made their environment so toxic that they are poison and should not be eaten." Dave, will that translate?

Michael Bailey was there on the ground in Tokyo working with us too. He was an eco-activist when Greenpeace was just a few people in a room. I turned on CNN and saw a long piece on The Cove screening in Tokyo: long lines waiting to get in, teams of news crews thrown off the property, reporter saying that although it's the most talked about film at the festival there isn't a single poster to be found anywhere. It was brave of the festival to take on the film, partly because it is an environmentally friendly festival (they have a green carpet instead of a red carpet). Funny world we're in, I thought as I turned off CNN, but it's the only one we have.

I made it through Japanese customs, about to head back to America. I can't thank all of you enough for helping us get up to this epic screening, they're boarding my plane now, and somewhere below me in the Pacific there will be several hundred dolphins now running free because of your efforts. Now let's go save the rest of them.

For the wild,


The Cove at TIFF, as told by the Director

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I was hoping to slip into Tokyo unnoticed like we did so many times before when filming The Cove.

I felt like I was stepping back, perhaps unnecessarily, into harm's way by attending the premiere of the movie at the Tokyo International Film Festival. What made me nervous were the outstanding arrest warrants-- trespassing, conspiracy to disrupt commerce, photographing police without their permission were just a few of the charges.

I was traveling with my New York attorney Wilder Knight, who was behind me on the plane in case I got into trouble. It would be comforting to know that somebody would know if I were detained. Authorities can hold you for 23 days without charges in Japan, and as I had read from State Department warnings, they have over a 99% conviction rate. The U.S. embassy was very clear that traveling in Japan with charges pending was foolish. You have no rights in Japan, and they are expert at forcing a confession out of suspects through what amounts to torture. “Who is the U.S. to complain now that we have Gitmo as our legacy?” I thought.

But it was important to me to be there to introduce the film, and stand up for my clients: the dolphins and porpoises and whales that have very few human voices to defend them. I realized the odds were against us. Making a film and trying to get it shown in Japan were seemingly insurmountable, but it seemed every time we encountered a difficulty, a barrier was broken down. $35,000 to dub the film, no money in the bank, borrowing off my son's college fund, living on fumes. Then a donor steps up out of nowhere to help out. More bills, more debt. Should I tell my wife that we should move into a smaller house and reduce the mortgage? Then an anonymous check comes in the mail with a lot of zeros, and the short term film debt is wiped out like an angel sprinkled fairy dust on our dreams.

But this film was never about money, it was about trying to live up to the dream of saving the oceans and the most magnificent creatures that live in it. And although improbable, it seemed to be working. Dolphins were being released at the cove, but some pilot whale pods and Rissos (large dolphins) were still being slaughtered because the locals regard them as whales-- so there is still a lot of work to be done. I felt going into Tokyo was the quickest way to draw attention to the problem, and getting arrested - while being no fun - would be the equivalent of walking into the dragon's lair.

The little film that others said had no chance of ever being shown theatrically in that country was now a sensation, eclipsing the big Hollywood films entered at the festival. The show sold out within hours of its announcement, even though it had been relegated to an early morning slot on a weekday. The nervous planners thought it was politically unwise to open other screenings like most festivals do to compensate for overwhelming demand.

The media in Japan, once reluctant to cover any stories about dolphin and whale hunting, had swarmed over Ric O'Barry and his crew on his latest voyage into Taiji. He told me going in that he was scared he would get arrested. He wasn't, to his relief, but he did say the police were looking for me.

Watching Ric has given me a lot of courage. He's definitely committed to the extent that he would sacrifice everything for the cause. The stress takes its toll on family and your life though. I had been on the road for six weeks in Europe and the Middle East promoting the film. Charles Hambleton, director of covert operations and freediver Kirk Krack offered to come and stand by my side together, and Fisher Stevens too, but then I thought that would be too easy for the police to play us off each other. It's a common strategy and I didn't want to play into that game and risk more crew and potential lawyer's fees. Wilder was coming over gratis. My wife Viki had been traveling with me but I didn't want to drag her into the conflict. Besides, I needed somebody back home, on the ground working the phones to bail me out if I should get apprehended.

I was in the U.S. for a day, didn't go home, and my luggage didn't arrive from Europe so I bought new clothes knowing that in Japanese prison they let you keep your street clothes with you. Getting off the plane, even before going through immigration, the television and news crews were waiting for me. My heart raced. Did they know something I didn't know? How did they know I was coming? Too late to do anything now. I stopped and talked on the plane steps to Mike Yamashita, a fellow National Geographic photographer who was in transit to Hong Kong. He had heard about the film and my new career. He took a few snaps of me in case I'm arrested and wishes me good luck.

In short, I wasn't detained. The immigration officer asked a lot of the usual questions: What do you do for a living? "I make films." What kind of films? "Documentaries." About what? "Wildlife, I film wildlife." What are you doing in Tokyo? "I'm showing our film at the Tokyo Film Festival." How long are you going to be here? "Two days or maybe two years," I thought. "I'm leaving Thursday," I said. He stamped my passport and more news crew watched us haul our bags onto the bus.

Today was surreal. Teams of news crews were turned away and banned from the film festival property. The festival planners roped off the green carpet so I had to take an escalator up to the in the screening. It was obvious they didn't want any more press on The Cove screenings. There wasn't a single poster up of The Cove around the grounds or the theater. Just a piece of paper taped onto the theater doors saying, "The Cove".

I was shuffled away from the news crews and taken through a series of hallways and warned not to walk around because of protesters. I didn't see any protesters. I had asked to introduce the film, and looking around the audience I saw many of the main characters in our film. Is that Private Space? Look, that's the Taiji Mayor, and Moronuki. Isn't that the some of the fisherman but in suits? There's Joji's predecessor from the Japanese International Whaling Commission Komatsu himself, who is famous for his quote, "Whales are the cockroaches of the oceans." At the screening of The Cove at the Japanese Film Festival I definitely wouldn't be preaching to the choir. I was deep into enemy territory but I was armed with the most powerful weapon in the world, a film.

The Mayor of Taiji couldn't get tickets because the screening was sold out, so I had offered him OPS's ticket allotment so his city council could attend as well. In the end it was deemed too expensive for them all to come, so I had faxed him an invitation that OPS would screen The Cove for the whole town of Taiji for an Ocean Film Festival. It was Lincoln O'Barry's idea, and he said he could arrange it and bring in some other films as well. Perhaps End of the Line and Oceans and make it the Taiji Ocean Film Festival, Ric proposed. I even officially offered to donate 100% of OPS profits from the film in Japan if they would agree to stop capturing dolphins for meat or for the entertainment industry.

It's a small price to pay for the freedom of these magnificent creatures, but no official response back from their side. But at least they will know I'm not here for the money. There are a couple of small offers on the table now by nervous Japanese distributors, but we're very cautious that somebody could license the film here just to have it buried. Maybe we should go the YouTube route. OPS's main backer is Jim Clark and his son-in-law is Chad Hurley, the CEO of YouTube. My fear is that if you give a film away, that may be its perceived value.

The Q&A at the screening was mostly silent from the dark forces. Really though, how can they defend what they just witnessed? Moronuki got to see even more of the killing footage that I flashed to him on my iPhone in the film, but not in context with the rest of the movie. I remember deleting those scenes as I showed them to him. The taxi to the airport was packed with the OPS crew and that day, and he would have had to act swiftly to have us arrested. "I don't want to talk about 'if' stories," he said to us.

Now there he was, a few rows from the front, smiling blankly like his worst nightmares had become real and everyone in the room had come to share them. That must be what it's like to be a politician caught on a film taking a bribe. I felt like somebody could have set him in a coffin, folded his hands over his chest, buried him and he wouldn't have resisted.

Komatsu, who wrote the definitive book on the Japanese defense of whaling had his head between his knees and was frantically rubbing his temples as if trying to poltergeist a migraine. If everybody else around him wasn't in shock, I think they would have gotten him a doctor.

The mayor of Taiji stormed out like a man in need of a restroom. He didn't come back. I don't expect he'll be following up on the offer of a Taiji Ocean Film Festival anytime soon. Lots of fishermen in nice suits with their lawyers in attendance were slinked down and shielding their faces. There were numerous threats to sue TIFF if the film was shown.

The question came up, and I said, "The dolphin hunters said they were proud of their profession, so what are they afraid of? The Taiji mayor said they only closed off The Cove because of danger of falling rocks. I watched the cove for weeks and didn't see any falling rocks. So I put in some of my own to see for sure." That got laughs from the ex-pat community and the mostly sympathetic Japanese community.

I told the audience that as much as we all feel that the film is about animal rights, the way to win the argument is through human rights. Dolphin meat is toxic, all of it. The meat violates Japanese Health laws, and I called for the new Ministries of Health under the new political party to enforce their health laws. The LDP was in power in Japan for 53 years. Since WWII. A corrupt oligarchy whose four lane highways to nowhere are the stuff of legend. They subsidized the whaling industry with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. The new government is shutting down those large construction projects, and of course were all hoping whaling gets shut down too. 

I told the audience that if Japan shut down whaling and joined the International community on this issue, their economy would soar. I said whale watching has earned far more money than whale killing has ever made, even when one compensates for the value of money then and now. All whaling and dolphin killing accounts for only 1/10th of one percent of the toothbrush market in their huge economy, but it stains their international reputation to no end.

The tradition argument falls apart when human rights are violated, and it is a human right to have food that is not classified as a poison by health laws but advertised as nutrition by the Far Seas Fisheries agency. I told them there was a factory near my home town of Boulder, Colorado that made plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs, and the workers there said that was their tradition. There was an audible gasp from the Japanese audience. Activists shut down that bomb plant, one of them being Charles Hambleton who set up the "rocks" in The Cove. He was arrested twice on the same day for his action. He was jailed, released and arrested again on the same day for his protests.

Rocky Flats is now closed because the site is toxic, because people like Charles protested. The Rocky Flats workers all asked, "What will we do if we can't make bombs for a living?" They found other jobs, just like the dolphin hunters must do rather than distribute poison for a living. The time is now for the Japanese to solve this problem. We made a movie, but now it's up to the Fishermen to stop slaughtering dolphins and poisoning its people.

-Louie Psihoyos

The Cove DVD Release

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We're happy to announce that the Cove will be in stores on DVD Tuesday, December 8th!

If the film didn't come to your town, you missed it in theaters, or you simply want to share The Cove with your friends and family, you'll be able to buy the DVD soon. Give a copy of the award winning film that is changing the world as a gift for the holidays this year. 

You can already pre-order your copy on Amazon or reserve it on Netflix


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hello Everyone, OPS Team Coordinator here. Welcome to the blog for The Cove! 

We'll keep you updated with information about the film, where you can see it, what's going on in Taiji and other news. There may even be special letters from Director Louie Psihoyos and other fun things, so stay tuned. 

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